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The U.S. Virgin Islands: America's Caribbean Shopping Mecca



The U.S. Virgin Islands are rightly known as a shopping mecca: hundreds of merchants cater to a captive audience of cruise ship passengers, resort guests and boat enthusiasts. Add to that a generous $1600 duty-free allowance and no sales tax, you've got a shopaholic's paradise. But prices on most items aren't especially cheap – don't forget that everything has to be shipped or flown in, which adds to the bottom line.

This doesn't deter avid shoppers though, who come for the duty-free booze, cigarettes and jewels above all. The greatest concentration of such shops is found in St. Thomas near the main cruise ship port. The Havensight Mall's 100+ shops offer an array of merchants like AH Riise, Diamonds International, Passman, Little Switzerland and Royal Caribbean where rum, black coral pendants and Marlboros are on the menu. Branches of these stores are also found on St. Croix, and to a lesser extent, St. John.

Another thing the Virgin Islands is known for is funky boutiques selling eclectic crafts, handmade jewelry, and gift items. For example Bamboula on St. John offers musical instruments from Africa, the Estate Whim Museum Store on St. Croix has historical maps, and Tillett Gardens in St. Thomas features hand-crafted jewelry from dozens of local artisans. Crucian Gold on St Croix is famous for its distinctive bracelet designs, and Donald Schnell Studio on St. John is worth visiting for the gorgeous ceramics.

Name-brand clothing and designer goods are abundant at Yacht Haven Grande on St. Thomas, where shops like Gucci, Bulgari, Coach and Aqua Beachwear will empty your wallet. For more unique island styles, head to From the Gecko boutique in St. Croix, which offers fair-trade clothing lines made from organic materials.


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Mango Tango Art Gallery
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


Just outside the hustle and bustle of Charlotte Amalie is an excellent gallery selling works by local and internationally recognized artists who spend all or part of their time in the Caribbean. In addition to paintings, sculpture and photography, the gallery, which is over 20 years old, also carries crafts, ceramics, glasswork, textiles, ironwork, wood sculpture and more by the likes of Don Dahlke, Max Johnson, Dana Wylder and others. The airy gallery also offers framing services, an impressive selection of historical Caribbean maps, and monthly art shows of emerging artists during peak season. Located in Al Cohen's Mall on Raphune Hill, about one mile from downtown.

Recommended for Best Shopping because: Unique multi-media art and artisan crafts make this a must-see gallery for art buffs and souvenir hunters.

Karen's expert tip: To save money getting there, you can take a "dollar taxi" (a public safari bus) from just in front of Vendor's Plaza downtown. If you're not sure where to get off, just ask anyone on the bus to tell you where Al Cohen's mall is.

Read more about Mango Tango Art Gallery →




Recently voted "best ladies' clothing in the USVI," this enchanting little store owned by Danna Brosius has been dressing Crucian women (and men) in stylish island-casual garb for more than 20 years. Collections come from designers all over the world, and most are fair-trade and organic. You can find pieces for the entire family here: women like the forgiving fabrics, pastel colors and beachy, breezy feeling of the skirts, dresses and sarongs; men can find Island Guy shirts, which are like Hawaiian shirts, but not tacky. Kids love the backpacks made from banana leaves. Handpainted silk scarves, candleholders carved of native woods, and handcrafted jewelry are among the other treasures you'll find. Sales staff are very professional and knowledgeable and will go out of their way to find the most flattering style for your shape and personality.

Recommended for Best Shopping because: Super service, flattering clothes and creative jewelry make this shop a standout on St. Croix.

Karen's expert tip: This store recently moved from Queen Cross Street to Company Street in Christiansted. So if you are a repeat visitor to the store, remember to go to the new location.

Read more about From the Gecko →


Donald Schnell Studio
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


This ceramics gallery is also a workshop where you can watch artisans at work making water fountains, lights, signs, planters, vases, musical wind chimes and dinnerware. The gallery specializes in coral pottery dinnerware; coral sand and melted glass are mixed to mimic the colors and textures of Caribbean stone and water. Schnell also represents a short list of other artists from St. John and worldwide. The studio is located in the Amoré Center, which is just a short walk from either Mongoose Junction or the ferry dock in Cruz Bay.

Recommended for Best Shopping because: The classy, unique pieces at Schnell Gallery exemplify the creative, artistic spirit of St. John.

Karen's expert tip: Look out for the little "freebie" ceramic doo-dads offered at the checkout register.

Read more about Donald Schnell Studio →


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Tillett Gardens


Silk-screen artist Jim Tillett and his wife founded Tillett Gardens in 1959 as a screen printing studio and art gallery. Since then it has expanded into a wide- ranging arts and crafts center where local artists and craftsmen make and sell pottery, candles, jewelry, baskets and more. Many of the artisans work on-site so you can watch the crafts take shape, and some offer workshops. The legacy of the Tilletts continues with their protege Sonny Thomas, who produces the famous Tillett maps and fabrics, which feature island motifs. Tillett Gardens is also home to a music studio (which offers lessons), and the Pistarckle Theater, which stages about a dozen plays and musicals throughout the year. The facility also hosts several classical and contemporary musical performances during the island's high season.

Recommended for Best Shopping because: This place offers a huge variety of beautiful and innovative locally-made art, jewelry and crafts.

Karen's expert tip: If you decide you REALLY love Tillett Gardens, you can stay overnight there: the on-site guest house (Rhoda's) offers budget rooms for a day or a week.

Read more about Tillett Gardens →


Estate Whim Museum Store


This shop, which is next door to the historic Whim Plantation house, offers an impressive array of art, West Indian crafts, artifacts, antiques, furniture, textiles, and even local foods. Many of the mahogany and teak furniture pieces are reproductions of furniture in the plantation house. If you're not in the market for furniture, place to pick up a really memorable portable souvenir: there are historical maps, books about the history of St. Croix and the Virgin Islands, locally designed cards and jewelry, and CDs by local musicians. Food items include dundulsa, lassinga, peppermint and coconut and ginger sugarcakes, guavaberry liqueur, and tarts (guava, pineapple, coconut and guavaberry).

Recommended for Best Shopping because: This museum store offers an incredibly comprehensive and well-curated collection of art, artifacts and souvenirs.

Karen's expert tip: Certain items can be shipped directly to your home on the mainland at no additional charge, via a stateside warehouse.

Read more about Estate Whim Museum Store →




Located in an un-missable pink and yellow house with gingerbread trim, Pink Papaya dazzles the eyes with a riot of colors, shapes and sizes once you step in the door. You'll find everything from ceramics to tableware to jewelry to home decor with a Caribbean flair. Colorful table linens, hand-painted serving trays, holiday ornaments, prints, photographs, handmade pendants, quirky eyeglasses, stuffed animals, humorous greeting cards, candies, hot sauces - you name it, they've got it. They also showcase pieces from local and international artisans, such as the vivid Haitian metalwork in the shape of sea creatures. Shipping and gift-wrapping are available. Located next to the Lime Inn in the center of Cruz Bay.

Recommended for Best Shopping because: The Pink Papaya is a one-of-a-kind "style gallery" and gift shop.

Karen's expert tip: Ask if they have any "loco-nuts" – painted fish figurines made from coconuts. Some are even crafted into birdhouses.

Read more about Pink Papaya →


Yacht Haven Grande
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


Yacht Haven Grande is new-ish waterfront development that includes a luxury yacht marina, residential condos, restaurants, and over 40 high-end shopping boutiques. Lots of pricey designer brands are represented here, including Louis Vuitton, Coach, Gucci, BCBG Max Azria, and Bulgari. But there are also mid-range chains like White House Black Market, Bebe, Cache, and Tommy Hilfiger, plus a beauty salon and non-chain boutiques selling swimwear, pet supplies, and sunglasses. Dining options include Fat Turtle, Grande Cru, and Bad Ass Coffee. During high season there are regularly-scheduled outdoor concerts, parties, pet adoption fairs, and more.

Recommended for Best Shopping because: The upscale shops and diverse restaurants give this shopping center multi-faceted appeal.

Karen's expert tip: Every other Sunday from 10am - 2 pm there is a farmer's market in the main plaza, and every Saturday at 9am there is a free Zumba class!

Read more about Yacht Haven Grande →


Owned and run by the Bishop family, a team of artisans and metalsmiths native to St. Croix, Crucian Gold features a variety of beautiful handmade jewelry designs inspired by the history, people, and natural environment of the island. Crafted from gold, silver, copper and brass, you'll find bracelets, pendants, earrings, rings and necklaces here. Popular items include the "Crucian knot" bracelet (which features a "lover's knot" in the center) and the Turk's Head ring (a knot of interwoven gold strands). Pendants and earrings are also available with the distinctive designs. Bishop's other masterpieces are chess sets inlaid with precious metals and featuring Caribbean scenes. All of the materials they work with come from recycled and eco-friendly sources.

Read more about Crucian Gold →




Located in the heart of Mongoose Junction, owner Jo Sterling's excellent multi-cultural boutique offers an impressive array of historic and exotic finds from the Caribbean, Africa and Indonesia. You'll find yourself spending hours browsing the ever-changing inventory of art, music, clothing and home decorative items that are displayed on antique West Indian furniture. Home decor includes wall hangings, block-printed bedspreads and table linens, hand-crafted wood bowls, throw pillows, utensils and goblets. Haitian metal art, Caribbean and African musical instruments, and island made jewelry are among the crafts you'll find. Clothing ranges from leading contemporary brands to one-of-a-kind batik-print pieces. While you shop, the sounds of the Caribbean and Africa pulse through the sound system. All music is available for sale.

Recommended for Best Shopping because: This St. John institution is well-loved for its eclectic array of multi-cultural art and artifacts.

Karen's expert tip: Most of the furniture used to display the merchandise is for sale.

Read more about Bamboula →


Havensight Mall
Photo courtesy of Karen Elowitt


This mall, which greets cruise ship passengers who disembark at the West Indian Company dock, is one of the major shopping areas on the island (besides downtown). It boasts about 100 shops and restaurants, plus various service providers such as banks and a post office. Numerous jewelers have branches here, where you can buy everything from black coral to Austrian crystal, to French perfume and Swiss watches at excellent prices. There are also various beachwear shops, an electronics store, a bookstore, a gourmet grocer and a music store. Ancient mahogany trees line the streets, and casual eateries like the Delly Deck and Havensight Cafe provide tasty, cheap grub for refueling stops.

Recommended for Best Shopping because: A convenient location by the cruise ship dock, combined with easy walkability, add up to an appealing shopping experience.

Karen's expert tip: Most shops are only open when cruise ships are in port, with the exception of the restaurants, the Gourmet Gallery, Dockside Bookshop, the post office, and the pharmacy.

Read more about Havensight Mall →


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Meet Karen Elowitt

Karen worked for several years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor before becoming a travel writer. She worked for renowned  travel expert Peter Greenberg before going freelance, and now...  More About Karen

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